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Beha'alosechaRabbi Mordechai Schwab ztvk'l, who lived in Monsey, NY, and was the Mashgiach of Mesivta Beis Shraga, was known as the Chofetz Chaim of this generation. His sweet, wide smile was always on his face and it was a pleasure to talk to him. Practically every time I met with him, he told me a vort from Reb Yeruchem Levovitz ztvk"l, the Mashgiach of the Mirrer Yeshiva, which he said was the way he (Rav Schwab) lived his life.
The Torah teaches us in this week's parshios that the Heavenly Cloud guided the Israelites through the desert for forty years. In Devarim (5:1) there is a mitzvah to follow Hashem. The Sages say (in Sifri) that it means to follow the Cloud. And they add that it is a mitzvah for all generations. Reb Yerucham asked, how could it be a mitzvah for all generations? Do we have a cloud today to follow? He answers that we certainly do. It is Hashgachah Peratis (Divine Providence) which leads us along the way every second of our lives. We are commanded to pay attention to the direction it guides us in and to cooperate with it.
The following amazing story clearly illustrates how much the "Cloud' is involved in our lives.
Here you have all the ingredients of a perfectly orchestrated drama - and every one of the details is true. All believing Jews, and even many who hesitate to place themselves in that category, have their own tales to tell of hashgachah pratis, of when events conspire to reveal Hashem's Hand beneath - but the following story will surely leave you in awe at the intricacies of the Divine plan.
The story begins in a yeshivah in Bnei Brak, Yeshivas Nachalas Shlomo, located in the Kiryat Herzog neighbourhood. The rebbeim there are noted for their uncommon devotion to their talmidim, and perhaps this had to be so, in order for events to unfold as they did.
Harav Chaim Zaid is one of the roshei mesivta there, a man with a creative mind bubbling with ideas to encourage the progress of the bachurim. Ordinarily his role as caring mentor does not extend far beyond the yeshivah walls - but then, last year, R' Chaim learned that one of his talmidim had been stricken with cancer R"l. Now, beyond the spiritual support he was accustomed to extending to the bachurim, R Chaim offered his whole-hearted assistance in every aspect, assuming all responsibility for the necessary medical treatments and procedures.
"I accompanied him through everything," he told us last week in a special interview, that for the first time revealed the many amazing facets of what transpired. "Several askanim in B'nei Brak were also involved, but I was determined to be at his side all along."
CHAPTER ONE: THE MISSING MONEY
"It all began last winter," R' Chaim begins, "when one of our talmidim, whom we will call Uriel for the sake of his privacy, aged twenty-two, was discovered to have a cancerous brain tumour - and the disease had already spread to other parts of his body. Uriel was sent to France for treatment but the doctors there were unable to control the disease. I remember clearly the last phone call I received from him from France, when he wept in sheer despair."
The doctors had told the family that there was nothing more they could for him and that they could begin counting the days... But the group of dedicated askanim following Uriel's progress refused to despair. We have doctors in order to heal, they declared, not to pronounce a death sentence. Accordingly, they set out determinedly to find help from another source. First they turned to the famous medical askan, Benny Fisher, and then to others as well. While they were still weighing all their options, one of the Israeli askanim suddenly recalled that his sister ran a Bikur Cholim society in a major city in the United States. Perhaps she had some useful contacts.
He got in touch, and she immediately mentioned a name, one Professor Rich, unknown as yet in Eretz Yisrael but in the U.S. he was swiftly gaining acclaim for the unique method he had developed himself, that offered the hope of a cure for cancer patients who had already received a 'death sentence' from others in the medical profession. His treatment involved operating on the patient - obviously in return for a substantial fee. In fact, his going rate was a staggering $130,000.
With their hopes raised again, Uriel's family was caught in a dilemma. There was no doubt in their minds that they had to find a way to procure the services of the only person who held out some hope for Uriel - but the amount the doctor was asking was simply beyond their means. They saw absolutely no way forward.
Actually, the $130,000 was not a true estimate for all the costs involved. Professor Rich would also have to be brought to Eretz Yisrael, housed in suitable accommodations, provided with a rented operating theatre in a private hospital... and all this added on approximately $30,000 to the bill.
Why couldn't Uriel be sent to the United States for the operation?
"We did consider that, but in the end, we realized it would only cost more money, and in addition, it would have added to the strain on Uriel."
And so, the various people involved began to look for ways to raise the sum. They turned to several charity funds, but none of them could commit to such a large expense.
"We then went to several Gedolim, asking for advice, and they all told us that the public could not be expected to produce such a huge sum of money. At this point, we felt stymied - there was no sign of help from any angle." It was an agonizing situation - the sense of helplessness, as they watched Uriel suffer, his condition only deteriorating, waiting for what now seemed the inevitable.
Just one day passed in this way, and then, R' Chaim Zaid received a phone call. The lady on the other end introduced herself as Mrs. Abutbul, Uriel's sister - and then, to his complete shock, she informed him joyfully that they could proceed with all their plans and book Professor Rich. R' Chaim was overjoyed - but confused - what had happened? Mrs. Abutbul didn't keep him in suspense. "I decided to sell my apartment," she told him simply. R' Chaim was taken aback. "I urged her to think it over carefully and to consult with daas Torah, asking if she was permitted to do such a thing. After all, she had a husband and six children to consider. But she was adamant. She had already called Uriel to inform him of her decision, even before speaking to me. She also told him that she was certain the surgery would be successful and that he would recover in order to dedicate his life to Torah. For the sake of Torah, she was fully prepared to make this sacrifice. Hashem would help. Afraid of what they might answer, she did not even want to ask rabbanim, so determined was she and so certain that Hashem would not let them down."
CHAPTER TWO: THE CAB DRIVER
Uriel's sister lived in Ramat Beit Shemesh and after speaking to R' Zaid, she immediately put her apartment up for sale, asking for $130,000, with the full sum to be paid in cash. Her home was actually worth more, but since time was of the essence, her priority was to make a quick sale. A potential buyer quickly materialized, eager to snap up a bargain, and the contract was signed. Meanwhile, R' Chaim had swung into action in order to raise the remaining sum, another $30,000. He now turned to his former talmidim, the yeshivah's alumni, and begged them to help. "We asked each one to pledge 1000 shekels," he tells us. The young men set out with great enthusiasm, hiring taxis to take them on their collection rounds.
"Professor Rich was scheduled to arrive on a Wednesday, but on that day, I had a prior commitment in the north of the country, to give a talk in a girls' school. I was on my way there when I received a call from one of my talmidim, Yehudah, who was then out collecting. He had a question for me: The cab driver who was ferrying them from one place to the next had asked him and his friend to deliver a suitcase to a certain address. Should they do him the favor?
"I told him in no uncertain terms to refuse. My talmidim were not going to get involved in any shady business! But a few minutes later, Yehudah called back. The driver was begging and pleading, he said. But I was adamant - under no circumstances should he agree, I insisted, adding that if the driver wanted, he could speak with me directly, after I had given my talk.
"By then we had arrived, I delivered my address - and then, as I walked out of the building to return home, there was Yehudah, together with the cab driver, waiting for me! I couldn't understand what could be so important, that the driver had made such a huge detour to find me - why couldn't he deliver the case himself. Still I was stubborn - I went over to him and told him again that there was no way I could let my talmidim transfer suspicious packages - surely he could understand? "The driver didn't reply straight away, but instead took out the case in question and opened it in front of me. It was a small, expensive-looking valise - but most interesting was the contents - small instruments, knives, strange little flashlights. Then the driver tried to explain:
" 'Today, before I picked up your talmidim, I was at the airport, where I picked up a passenger who had just arrived from abroad. A very distinguished sort of man, wealthy-looking too. I drove him to where he told me to go, but after I had let him out, I realized that he'd left this suitcase behind.
" 'Actually, by the time I noticed the case, a few hours had already passed, and I didn't know what to do. First I thought I'd open it, to see what was inside. I was kind of hoping it would be full of dollars - but instead, all I found were these strange instruments. Now what? So much time had passed that I was embarrassed to go back and look for the man, so I asked your students if they would do me the favour. The name of the person is inside, and I can tell you where he's staying.'" R' Chaim was intrigued. He took the valise and looked for the name tag - and his face turned white. The case belonged to none other than Professor Rich, who was supposed to be arriving that day to operate on Uriel.
"Straight away I asked the cab driver to give me the address of the hotel, and we got there as quickly as we could. From the reception desk we called his room, introducing ourselves and asking if he could come down to meet us, which he did. His mouth dropped when he saw the case - he must have despaired of ever seeing it again.
" 'This case contains all my surgical equipment, for an operation I came here to perform,' he told us emotionally. 'The contents are worth maybe as much as $40,000 - but it's not just the money -these items are irreplaceable! I designed many of the instruments myself, after months and months of research and effort.'" For a few moments, all were silent, digesting the incredible turn of events. Then R' Chaim pulled himself together - for the benefit of his beloved talmid:
"I wanted him to realize that something amazing had happened, and to fill him in on the whole picture. 'Just imagine,' I told him. 'You arrived here to operate on my dear student - and then, where did you forget your valise? In the very cab that was busy transporting people making the rounds to collect money for that student! Surely you can see the Hand of Divine Providence here? And another thing - you probably don't know, but the operation was only made possible because of Uriel's sister - she sold her apartment to pay for it, and now she and her husband and six children have no roof over their heads!'" The professor was stunned. He'd clearly never come into contact with such mesirus nefesh - he wasn't a Jew, and was very touched at Mrs. Abutbul's selfless action. He was also totally unaccustomed to viewing 'mundane' events through the prism of Divine intervention, and wasn't sure how to respond. Then, after having sunk deep into thought for a while, the Professor suddenly announced that he was going to forego the entire payment of $130,000! It was like a dream," R' Chaim tells us. That very week, Uriel's operation took place in a private medical centre in Herzliya, with dozens of his friends and family davening that the operation be successful.
CHAPTER THREE: A FIVE ROOM APARTMENT IN YERUSHALAYIM
And, baruch Hashem, it was. Uriel began recuperating. His sister was immensely relieved and grateful, but now, she was faced with a dilemma. Although she had her money back, it was too late to re- claim her apartment - she had signed a contract, and soon she would have to move out.
She and her husband sat down to think things out. "If we're going to move, we might as well consider Yerushalayim," she began hopefully. Her husband immediately pointed out how unrealistic such an idea was. "The money we have available is enough for a converted store-room, not an apartment!" he told her, trying to stop her from getting her hopes up. But Mrs. Abutbul wasn't to be put off so easily, and decided to visit a friend in Yerushalayim to ask for her advice.
"Why not at least see what's available, now that you're here?" the friend suggested, and so they walked to a nearby real estate agent, But when he heard the sum Mrs. Abutbul had at her disposal, he just laughed. Disappointed, they left the office and started to wander around the nearby streets, aimlessly enough - when suddenly, they noticed a For Sale sign on a building. The two friends exchanged glances.
"Nu, why not?" the friend said, and so they knocked on the door. A lady opened for them and ushered them inside. It was a five-room apartment, in excellent condition. But the price? "I'll have to ask my husband," the lady told them. "I'll call him now, and he'll be here soon. Please sit down while you wait."
Sure enough, within a few minutes the owner arrived, and immediately began to list the advantages of his apartment, the dimensions, the directions it faced... Mrs. Abutbul needed no convincing - she already loved the apartment - but the real question was, what was the asking price?
"Three hundred and ten thousand dollars," was the reply.
Mrs. Abutbul just sighed. Of course she had known that it was impossible - but even so... Regretfully she admitted that she had less than half the amount the apartment was worth.
The owner was clearly displeased - turning to his wife, he asked her in annoyance why she had bothered to call him home for a couple of jokers. Upset that the wife was now being blamed for her own actions, Mrs. Abutbul tried to explain - and in the process, the whole story came out: how she had come to sell her home in Beit Shemesh, how she didn't need the money in the end...
The owner didn't let her finish, but interrupted in mid-stream:
"You sold your apartment to pay for your brother's operation? Are you Mrs. Abutbul, by any chance?" he demanded to know. "Yes," she said quietly.
"And do you know who I am? I am the cab driver who found Professor Rich's precious suitcase. I just can't believe this turn of events - that you should have come to my house, wanting to buy it!"
They all stood in shock, and then the owner continued: "And why am I selling such a good apartment? My mother passed away recently, and she left me a private villa in a quiet settlement. So we are moving there. I just have to call R' Chaim Zaid, to tell him all of this!"
He dialled the number, and as soon as R Chaim answered, the words burst out of his mouth: "You won't believe this, Kavod Har-av\ Uriel's sister is right now in my apartment, wanting to buy it! Of course, she doesn't have the necessary amount - but maybe I should give it to her anyway? What does the Rav say?"
"I told him not to be in such a rush to decide," R Chaim continues his narrative. "I suggested that we go together to a big rav, to ask for advice and a blessing. And since I often consult with the Admor R David Abuchatzeira shlit"a, the very next day we travelled together to Nahariya. There we recounted the whole story, from beginning to end, and then R' David told the driver to sell for that price, promising him and his wife arichas yamim, that they would live long, healthy lives.
"And that is the end of the story, I guess," R Chaim concludes. "When R' David heard it, he was very moved, and said that it was one of the most incredible examples of hashgachah pratis that he had encountered in years. And of course I shouldn't forget to add that Uriel is, b'chasdei Hashem, doing very well, and recently made a seudas hodayah."
How often do we merit to see Hashem's Hand, orchestrating events so perfectly? The truth is, of course, that even events that we regard as purely mundane and routine are also micro-managed by the Borei Olam, but every so often, we need a jolt to remind us that every single detail of our lives is part of something larger than we can possibly conceive.
May we all merit, bekarov beyameinu, to see the culmination of the myriad events in our lives, and to await that moment with emu-nah and bitachon, Amen.
Shema Yisrael Torah Network